America is in a war against deadly fentanyl and the Mexican cartels that traffic in the drug.
But sadly, it appears that we are currently losing that fight. More must be done by the Biden administration to ensure we can turn the tide.
Border states such as Arizona have become ground zero as fentanyl continues to flow into the United States.
A synthetic opioid more than 50 times more potent than heroin, an amount as small as four grains of salt is enough to cause death. More than five Arizonans per day or over 2,000 individuals in total lost their lives to opioid overdose deaths in 2021.
The rapid ramp-up and sheer volume of the drug pouring across the southern border is staggering. From 2019 to 2021, the amount of fentanyl interdicted at the southern border more than quadrupled to 11,200 pounds, and as we enter the last quarter of 2022, numbers indicate that amount has already been surpassed for this calendar year.
The rise of fentanyl has sadly corresponded with increased death rates. For the first time ever, in 2021 more than 100,000 Americans — 107,000, to be exact — succumbed to a drug overdose. This grim milestone was reached primarily as a result of fentanyl overdoses, which accounted for over 70,000 of the total deaths. While the opioid crisis may have started due to the abuse of pharmaceuticals, it is now clearly driven by the fentanyl that is flooding our streets.
The fact is, today’s opioid crisis is as much a border security issue as it is a drug abuse issue.
As the Chinese finally cracked down on domestic production of the synthetic opioid — thanks to the tough negotiating skills of former President Donald Trump — production has predominately shifted to Mexico. Two Mexican drug cartels, Sinaloa and Jalisco, now control the vast majority of the illicit trade in fentanyl.
The result has been a tsunami of poison destined for the United States. In the first six months of 2022, 640,000 pounds of fentanyl were seized in Mexico. This is in addition to what has been seized by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol at American checkpoints.
This mass inflow has allowed the drug to infiltrate all parts of the illicit supply chain. It has been used to lace heroin as well as other non-related street drugs such as cocaine and even marijuana. As a result, the vast majority of fentanyl overdose deaths are now due to unintentional ingestion because as one expert put it, fentanyl is now found “in everything.”
Increasingly, the drug is also being pressed into pill form, which has led to a more insidious turn of events. U.S. seizures of fake pills numbered 20.4 million in 2021, and considering that the Drug Enforcement Agency estimated that 40 percent of counterfeit fentanyl pills contain a potentially lethal dose, it is not difficult to grasp why American overdose deaths have been increasing so rapidly.
The results have been tragic.
I have heard of too many people who had a family member or friend die in their sleep after obtaining what they thought was a pharmaceutical pill from a drug dealer, but was instead a fentanyl-laced pill. There was another case in which a young person at a party, a bystander, was helping a friend in the throes of overdose and died in the process by coming in contact with fentanyl on this person. As a mother of three sons, it breaks my heart to hear of such senseless death.
To end this opioid crisis, we will need widespread public policy awareness, addiction education throughout the entire country and expanded treatment and recovery options in major communities hit by this crisis. Education efforts to alert our youth to the potential dangers of taking anything that looks like candy or street drugs need to be reinforced in the public schools as well.
Strengthening the border is also a must.
This can take many forms. Passing laws such as the Border Safety and Security Act (HR 7772) to discourage mass migrant inflows to the United States is a start. Completing a physical barrier and utilizing other technologies across the southern border, where applicable, to better monitor smuggling efforts into the country would also be effective. Most importantly, we must take measures to better support our Border Patrol agents, many of whom are suffering from record-low morale due to a lack of backing from the current administration.
The fentanyl crisis sweeping the country is a serious problem that must be dealt with. Americans are ready to face the problem head-on, but we need proper support from Washington.
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